The Nicest Places in Every State in 2018
The nicest places in America embody kindness and cooperation: Locals help out neighbors and strangers alike—and newcomers are welcomed as friends.
Nicest Places in America
We’ve picked our leading candidates in each state for 2018—but maybe you live in or know about another Nicest Place in America.
Clay County, Alabama
Reader’s Digest has named Troy, Alabama in the past, but this year we’re looking at Clay County. With a population of less than 6,000, it’s home to more National Guard volunteers than anyplace else in Alabama and was dubbed the “Volunteer County” during the Gulf War. Each month, the county seat (Ashland) holds a “Fun Day.” When local 21-month-old resident Eli Sims was diagnosed with liver cancer, the community rallied around the little boy and his family, hosting fundraisers, prayer meetings, and generally making them feel loved and cared for at a time when they truly needed it. Find out how these children help the sick kids in their hometown.
If you happen to be in Alaska, look around: Two out of every three Alaskans you see engage in some kind of volunteerism. But the odds may be even higher in Anchorage, which goes out of its way to match its residents with volunteer opportunities—even when Anchorage’s major social service providers say they’re full up with volunteers! Honorable mention goes to Ketchikan, Alaska, where the sight of a pedestrian pausing on the main road led to traffic stoppage in all directions as drivers waved her across the road.
Paradise Valley, Arizona
“Without a doubt, Paradise Valley is the most charitable place in the state,” says Beth McRae, a former chair of the Phoenix Heart Ball, one of Phoenix’s most prominent charity events. Paradise Valley residents rank among the most avid supporters of charity events in the Phoenix area, and while it’s an affluent community, its residents view support of charities as not only writing checks but also actually doing the hands-on volunteer work. But let’s not forget about Prescott, home of some of Arizona’s bravest firefighters ever.
If you’ve never heard of Pocahontas, Arkansas, here’s what you need to know about its community-minded residents: when the town was hit by historic flooding in the spring of 2017 that threatened to blow through a levee and destroy 56,000 bushels of rice, corn, and soybeans that sat in Weitkamp Farms’ grain bins, they spent 28 hours straight moving all 56,000 bushels. They finished just hours before the levee broke.
While Los Angeles is truly the “City of Angels,” according to Travelocity, it’s Chester that comes together annually for a 34-mile endurance challenge on wheels—any kind of wheels, but especially wheelchairs—to benefit locals with physical disabilities.
Salida is home to both artists and ranchers. That helps explain the annual Christmas-time decoration of Tenderfoot Mountain and events like Salida Soup, a pot-luck booster for non-profits. (Plus, their stop-sign ritual could make even the most impatient among us pause and nod politely.) That said, we also give a nod to Boulder, where “no gently used bicycle part ever gets thrown away” because of local not-for-profit, Community Cycle, which has created a “culture of re-cycling” old bikes into “new” (thanks for letting us know, Alisa Schwartz!).
West Hartford, Connecticut
West Hartford has been voted one of the best places to live in numerous surveys… with good reason, according to resident Greg Patchen. West Hartford not only has a reasonable cost of living, diversity, and ample community recreation opportunities, it’s also the center of a movement to build the first baseball field accessible to all children (even those with profound physical disabilities).
Dover is Delaware’s capital city: Delaware governor John Carney and First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney have led the charge to make Delaware a better place for children with the First Chance Delaware initiative. The goals include ending childhood hunger, promoting literacy, and raising awareness of—and effective responses to—adverse childhood experiences.
Her sons survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but Meredith Buchwald still sees Parkland as the same idyllic town that drew her in with its community spirit, and yes, its safety. The tragedy at the high school didn’t destroy the community, she says, but rather brought everyone together in the spirit of love, kindness, support, and activism. That activism includes the creation of Parents Promise to Kids (PPTK) by Meredith’s son Adam Buchwald and Brian Hibschman. PPTK asks parents to promise their children they’ll vote responsibly, which includes considering candidate stances on such issues as age requirements for gun ownership. Don’t miss one teacher’s brilliant strategy for ending school shootings once and for all.
Big Canoe, Georgia
It’s difficult to single out one place in Georgia as nicest when so many qualify. For example, there’s Gillionville Baptist Church in Albany, which swung right into action when a powerful storm’s 80-mile-per-hour winds took down 2,000 trees, cutting off electricity and access to many. There’s also Marietta, where one local shop has become the place where “everybody knows your name.” But we’re going to have to go with Big Canoe, where literacy and kindness came together in perfect harmony to reunite a traveler with his reading material.
Despite a high cost of living, Hawaii’s locals are generous—even those with limited means, according to Micah Kane, CEO of Hawaii Community Foundation. Lihue is the headquarters of Grove Farm, one of Hawaii’s most charitable companies, which donates $500 for every 25 hours its employees volunteer; the farm also opens its conference rooms free to nonprofits that need a place to hold meetings.
This city has dedicated support for the arts: Boise is home to the Fettuccini Forum, an important arts grant program. It’s also home to one of the most notable public art venues in the country: the Freak Alley Gallery. The walls of this public alley are dedicated to graffiti artists and muralists, and the city of Boise not only permits but embraces their artistic contributions.
Yes, there is a real-life “Mayberry.” It’s an hour from Chicago, in Ottawa. When hail the size of baseballs wreaked havoc on the town—and before the tornado “all-clear” sirens even sounded, community centers, churches, stores, and residents had already begun collecting food and delivering it to the fire station. Dedicated townspeople organized a fundraiser for victims, and countless volunteers gave their time. Even soap opera star—and Ottawa native—Walt Willey pitched in. Don’t miss these other heartwarming stories of good deeds done by caring neighbors.
Indianapolis was ranked the most caring city in Indiana by WalletHub—and the town’s workplaces received special mention for their kindness and thoughtfulness toward the town and employees. That helps explain why five of Glassdoor’s best places to work in America are in Indianapolis. The city was also ranked 12th most charitable American city by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
West Bend, Iowa
Moving to a small town may take adjustment. But if the town is West Bend, that move will be worthwhile, assure the locals. With a population of less than 1,000, West Bend is a hard-working, spiritually-driven community that takes care of its own but also knows how to have a great time, particularly when celebrating our nation’s independence. Their July 4th celebration matches the size of this town’s heart: It’s huge. Don’t miss these 15 things no one tells you about living in a small town.
This is the town where Dalton Risner—offensive lineman for the Kansas State football team—is making it his mission to impact young lives across the nation. Risner has always sought ways to help others, and his latest venture is reaching out to teens through his YouTube “Rise Up” series. “If I can impact one person and help them get through something tough, that means the most to me,” Risner told the Kansas State Collegian.
The opioid crisis has hit the heartland hard, but Wilmore is taking big steps to address it. First, its local Asbury University recently opened a brand new public policy center with a major conference regarding the crisis. And Wilmore pharmacist Dr. John McDaniel donated nearly $70,000-worth of the overdose-reversing drug, Naloxone (obtained via federal grant) to Jessamine County Emergency Management to help fight the local opioid crisis.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge is the home of Charlie’s Place Activity and Respite Center where people with Alzheimer’s disease can socialize and participate in activities without their caregivers. This benefits the people struggling with the condition while providing a break for the spouses and family members who provide care. This resource was life-changing for Pam Faciane and her husband, Bruce, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a particularly difficult diagnosis for both sufferers and their families.
This town declared April 30 “Pay It Forward Day” to encourage acts of kindness. Generosity seems to come naturally for Pittsfield residents anyway: One resident remembers getting ready to pay his lunch tab when he realized he left his wallet in his car. By the time he got back, a young man had paid his tab. During a recent Easter egg hunt, parents spotted an eight-year-old boy giving an egg to a younger kid whose basket was empty. Here are some stories of teachers performing sweet acts of kindness for their students.
Rock Hall, Maryland
It’s right there in the town motto: “Nice People Live Here.” But nice seems like an understatement for Rock Hall, where every mailbox was decorated with red ribbons to show support for a local boy who was battling cancer. After a local man died in a car crash, his orphaned dog was adopted as the town mascot.
This town is home to the Progeria Research Foundation (PRF), which was founded by the parents of Sam Berns—the teen who died of progeria and was the subject of the HBO documentary Life According to Sam. Craig Caplan, a Massachusetts native points to the town’s strong supports of PRF; the residents stay busy with other charitable activities, like taking cold plunges for kids with cancer to running marathons to raise money for leukemia research.
“Within days of moving in last year, neighbors came to the door, or walked up to us in the front yard and welcomed us to the neighborhood and introduced themselves,” Buck Blanchard wrote to Reader’s Digest about his new hometown of Birmingham. “Several have invited us into their homes to show us how they remodeled to give us ideas. People we have yet to meet wave when they drive by. People with their children or pets or both stop when walking by and say hello…and we walk everywhere.” In short? “It’s a utopia,” Blanchard says. Don’t miss some of the most heartwarming acts of kindness.
Coon Rapids, Minnesota
It doesn’t get much kinder than rural Coon Rapids, where the Coon Rapids High School has managed to enlist an impressive array of famous folks (professional athletes, singers, and television personalities) in a noble project: Recording short videos about the importance of kindness. It’s part of the school’s Kindness Matters campaign, but videos are just one part of it. Students also participate in kindness contests, charity drives, and kindness-themed pep fests throughout the year. Interested in bringing out the kindness of your own children? Check out these books that teach kids the value of kindness.
If you’re a new parent in Jackson, you need to know about Vickie Bradley. She owns and operates an aftercare enrichment program for kids. Local mom Tenisha Younger considers Bradley her mentor: “Her heart reaches the masses in several different ways. She feeds anyone in need, cares for the sick, and simply inspires others. She’s also a two-time cancer conqueror.” But Bradley isn’t the only one devoting her time, energy, and dollars in Jackson. There’s also Jeremy Forrest, an active military worker and fitness trainer, who raises awareness and funding for lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease.
The people of Martinsburg (population 304) take care of their own like no other place, according to Amanda Keller. She moved away in 2000 but felt the kindness first-hand 16 years later when she was paralyzed with a rare immune disorder. “Churches from Martinsburg and nearby towns banded together to throw a chicken dinner fundraiser, collecting items like gift cards, quilts, and gift baskets for a raffle.” All the proceeds went to Keller’s family to help with medical costs.
St. Ignatius, Montana
Looking for a place in Big Sky Country where the community is grounded, supportive, and unified toward making everyone happy and comfortable? Look no further than St. Ignatius. Resident Jack Pierce tells us that no tragedy or bad fortune that befalls a St. Ignatius family goes unnoticed: The entire community steps forward to help. And check out what the town did to save some of Montana’s most historic artworks.
If you think a small town can’t create a huge impact, you must not know about Franklin, Nebraska. When Michelle Bruce moved back to her hometown (population, 1,000), not only was she battling cancer but so were her husband and one of her sons. Their medical expenses were exorbitant, so the locals of Franklin came together to raise $45,000 for their care—and it meant everything to the Bruce family.
Black Rock City, Nevada
For most of the year it’s a desert 100 miles north of Reno, but for nine spectacular days, Black Rock City comes alive as the home of Burning Man, a non-profit experiment in community and art that is based on 10 essential principles: inclusion, self-reliance, self-expression, cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. “Burning Man brings out the best in people,” we learned from Greg Liburd, a multi-year attendant to Black Rock City. “Everyone there is nice, and they are welcoming.”
Lebanon, New Hampshire
The city gets credit for pursuing several energy-related efforts with the goal not only of reducing power costs for city dwellers but also reducing greenhouse gases. Lebanon also hosts a Meals on Wheels Walkathon, and in nearby West Lebanon, an ordinary man became a hero when he saved several children from an apartment fire just last month. “Houses can be replaced,” the man said. “Lives can’t.”
West Orange, New Jersey
Says resident Richard Prasad: “We have great neighbors, and I’ve met some of the nicest people I know right at my church.” West Orange also gave the world astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly (they recently volunteered for NASA’s twins study), and Thomas Edison—among many other notable and charitable people. Plus, it’s the birthplace of the song, Pleasant Valley Sunday, written by then-residents Carole King and Gerry Goffin and performed by the Monkees.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Welcome to what Allison Groom refers to as the Food Pantry capital of America. That’s because Albuquerque is home to Casa De Communidades, which not only gives food to the needy but is also a place for residents to volunteer. “The city of Albuquerque is small,” writes Groom, an Albuquerque resident. “However, the people that live there are magical! They work every day to make sure that others have an amazing day or life for that matter.” Here’s what local food pantries would like you to know.
Syracuse, New York
This year, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation‘s head-shaving event to support kids with cancer, held at Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub & Restaurant in Syracuse, brought in more than half a million dollars! What makes this event so incredibly special, according to Syracuse resident, Sophia Meskos, is the way the entire Central New York community comes together. “Whether five- or 85-years-old, our locals understand the impact they’re making in our community and around the world. Our community is connected to the cause and will champion it always.”
Raleigh, North Carolina
According to Sharon Hensley—she directs community services at Asbury United Methodist Church (AUMC)—this selfless town partnered with Rise Against Hunger for what is now an annual meal packaging event that sends food to hungry people all over the globe. The AUMC has also managed to convince its members to match all money they spend on Christmas gifts with a charitable donation! Check out this story about the nearby tiny town of Hayesville: The residents rallied together to support firefighters battling a massive wildfire blaze.
Fargo, North Dakota
Dinah Stephens wasn’t sure what to expect when she moved to Fargo. And then, while driving, she noticed a car of teenage boys yelling at her. Stephens braced for the worst—and then realized the boys were trying to alert her that her gas cap was off. “Fargo is composed of hard-working, intelligent, well-mannered, and enthusiastic people. They have a zest and joy for life,” says Gary Salava.
In the small town of Waterford, Ohio, a 57-year old tradition turns the entire town into one big family. Every fall in this town of fewer than 500 residents, Roger and Shirley Doak open their doors for family, friends, and strangers to engage in Apple Butter Weekend. There’s plenty of socializing, churning, and a buffet spread at sunset.
Oklahoma is one of the top places to retire. But Tulsa—especially the Florence Park neighborhood—is a nice place to live right whatever your age, according to Lance Woolsey. It’s the way neighborhoods should be, she says, with sidewalks full of friendly walkers, people outside, neighborhood yard sales, ice cream socials, and a Fall festival. The neighborhood came together a few years ago to beautify its own Pratt Park with, among other things, a water fountain that features pet bowls. After a resident was killed in a robbery, the neighborhood created a program that promoted awareness and called for an end to senseless violence.
Don’t let the name fool you—there are some really intriguing things going on in Boring. Take Elizabeth Fournier—the Green Reaper: She provides natural burial services, and she’s raising awareness about green funerals with her book, The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Know To Plan An Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial. Known around the Portland area for her compassion, Fournier provides the Portland area access to less costly, more environmentally friendly funerals. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Oregon is home to some of the most haunted places in America.
Nazareth resident Lisa Weisenstein tells Reader’s Digest that her town has wonderful schools, a reasonable cost of living, and is filled with kind, caring people who help each other out in times of need. “For example,” she says, “when State Trooper Kelly was shot on Route 33, the community rallied around and held fundraisers and various events to raise money for his family.”
Providence, Rhode Island
After visiting kids at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital, local cartoonist Steve Brosnihan would tell the kids to look out their window as he rode off on his bike: He would flicker his lights at them. Eventually, he got local businesses to flicker their lights at bedtime, which is how Good Night Lights grew into a city-wide movement. The entire community flashes lights—house lights, neon lights, flashlights—at 8:30 every night, and the kids inside the hospital blink flashlights in response.
Charleston, South Carolina
This charming southern town is notable thanks to one of its elementary school teachers who raised $80,000 to buy 650 bikes for all the kids at her elementary school. Resident Lynn Maggio, a television host who moved there from Mobile, Alabama last year nominates Charleston for its acceptance of her transgender teenage girl: She values Charleston’s progressive, accepting attitude. “I love that about Charleston! To be in a progressive city yet still be in the South with great food, weather, and manners!”
Rapid City, South Dakota
South Dakota’s gateway to Mount Rushmore is now a gateway to ending childhood hunger. For six years now, Rapid City has been working toward feeding hungry children with its annual Empty Bowls event, which sells warm bowls of soup to help raise money to feed children. Rapid City has also sent its police officers to the Philippines to deliver anti-human-trafficking training.
This quintessential small town underwent a population boom that brought it from 8,000 to 40,000 in recent years. But neighbors still wave at each other and are quick with a helping hand. “Almost daily I observe a social media outreach where someone is saying thanks for the kindness of others—a police officer who helped change a tire, donations for a family in need, multiple returns of lost wallets and purses, help with home repairs, rides, meals, prayers, and on and on,” writes resident, Paige Brown. “One high school student even renovated a donated school bus so an autistic girl could use it as a playhouse.”
In happy times, the unincorporated community of Wall, Texas—pop. 200—comes together to celebrate. When times are tough, such as when little Hadley Holik was suffering from cancer or when Paige and Tate Lombard learned their baby would need heart surgery, everyone pitched in with donations to see that the locals are taken care of.
Residents of Kaysville, Utah, are always ready to pitch in: One couple posted on Facebook that they needed help with yard work and a few days later their yard was full of people who’d brought their own rakes and wheelbarrows, reports resident Terry Sheffield. In April 2017, a family lost a son; neighbors collected money for a portrait of him. Within just two days—in time for the funeral—a local artist had already completed a charcoal portrait. Read about this veteran who paints portraits of fallen soldiers.
It’s known as one of the happiest places in all of Vermont—and not just because it’s home to Ben & Jerry’s. The ice cream company encourages its employees to volunteer and make charitable donations in the communities where they live and work.
Buckingham County, Virginia
When Rachel Wilson’s house burned to the ground in the middle of the night, it certainly “helped to live in nosy Buckingham,” she writes. By 6 a.m., her family had been put up by residents at a local hotel. By 10 a.m., a local woman showed up with boxes of clothing and a check for $200. “Every day, there were more and more boxes and bags of clothing, household items, and donations. Four days after the fire, a house was offered to us rent-free for two months.”
South Whidbey Island, Washington
Acts of kindness and generosity are the norm in South Whidbey Island, Washington. When one family in this Puget Sound community lost its home to a fire, residents stepped in to cover a year’s worth of rent and fill a new home with supplies. South Whidbey Island residents have also created a foundation to pay vet bills for pet owners who can’t afford it; they’ve also established programs for those in need to help pay for cars, oil changes, and gas. Learn why civil discourse is also the norm on South Whidbey Island.
Phillipi, West Virginia
Several organizations have come together under the auspices of Alderson Broaddus University in Phillippi to address hunger and the issue of food insecurity in West Virginia’s senior community. Another nice place is Bridgeport, which not only is known for its quality of life but is also home to some of the world’s nicest, kindest, most generous people, according to Bridgeport resident Brittany Owen.
If you want to live in the most caring city in the country, you’ll have to move to Madison, which scored highest on WalletHub’s measures of kindness. Madison residents outpace those of most other cities in working for social and community services.
“When I relocated from the Golden State to the Cowboy State, I discovered a different state of mind,” Mary Billiter tells Reader’s Digest. She says that life was friendly and laid back in Alpine, and someone always “had her six”—an Alpine phrase that means someone has your back. (If 12:00 is directly ahead, then 6:00 is your back.) Next, be sure to check out these 19 powerful quotes that will remind you to be kind to one another.