THE COOLEST SMALL TOWNS IN THE U.S.A.

Your Suggestions

Read about towns in Maine, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Washington, and New York

Downtown Rockland

(Joshua Bright)

In April, we chose the 10 coolest small towns in the U.S.A. Expecting disagreements, we asked for your suggestions. Read the best response--and the runners-up.

The Winner: Rockland, Maine

I think you missed Rockland, Maine, in your list of America's 10 Coolest Small Towns. I live here so I'm probably biased, but Rockland really is pretty cool. Our downtown has undergone a huge transformation from being a smelly fish-processing waterfront to being a hip art community. The Farnsworth Art Museum is in the heart of downtown, with art shops and galleries popping up all around. Our downtown movie theater was closed for a few years and recently reopened after an extensive renovation. The Strand is once again alive and well and showing unique films and live stage performances at reasonable prices. You can even order wine or beer in the balcony seating area! The downtown building where our local paper used to be published is now our visitor information center and the Maine Lighthouse Museum, a wonderful new facility. The waterfront boardwalk is frequented by locals walking their dog or by visitors taking in the beauty of our large natural harbor gated by a mile-long breakwater with a distinctive lighthouse at the end--the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, currently undergoing restoration and open for tours on summer weekends. There are lots of great shops, restaurants, and cozy B&Bs in town.

My favorites?

Planet Toys--where you can play for hours!

Second Read--a great used book store with a funky wooden floor. Their café-style pastries and drinks are delightful.

Waterworks--a local hangout serving pub-style fare and always-free popcorn!

The Brass Compass--no place better for breakfast.

The Brown Bag--no place better for lunch (okay, occasionally Wasses Hot Dogs).

The Limerock Inn, The Old Granite Inn, Berry Manor Inn--all wonderful downtown B&Bs.

Thorndike Creamery--great ice cream, as well as New York-style pizza by the slice. Yum!

And there's so many more, too many to mention. In Rockland, you can find anything from clothing, toys, jewelry, and appliances to great food. (A sushi restaurant will open soon.) You're just as likely to be walking down Main Street next to a lobsterman as you are someone from New York. We are both the Lobster Capital of the World, and the Schooner Capital of the World; there's even a boat-building school.

But what makes Rockland so cool is that there's all this change, but it's still a hotbed of commercial fishing, windjammer sailing, and traditional wooden boat-building. Somehow it all coexists. --Brenda Walker

Fairfield, Iowa

Fairfield, Iowa, nicknamed by some as Silicorn Valley, sits in the southeast corner of Iowa. It has a population of about 10,000, and one-third of the population is associated in some way with Maharishi University of Management, a bastion of the Transcendental Meditation organization.

In Fairfield, creativity rules. It has nearly everything: the largest greenhouse operation in Iowa (organic too!); the highest per capita concentration of restaurants in the country; one of the most popular art events in the state, 1st Fridays; the newest city in Iowa, Maharishi Vedic City, just north of Fairfield; and a multitude of new businesses that have sprouted all around town.

It is indeed a wellspring of creativity and energy in the midst of a typical midwestern farm town. You'll find dozens of companies and organizations oriented around natural health care, education, and a healthy environment, including a very active trails program with 33 miles of trails surrounding the entire town and the first eco-friendly pet shelter in the world, Noah's Ark. Also, check out The Raj, a premier Ayurvedic health spa attracting visitors from around the world.

The town was recently awarded the Grassroots Entrepreneurship Award by the National Council of Small Cities. About 50 companies now make their headquarters in Fairfield. One of the most recent developments is the announcement by ReFuel Amercia that it plans to build a biodiesel plant in town that will have an estimated capacity of 60 million gallons.

Unlike many small midwestern towns, the town square is filled with thriving businesses and restaurants. One could visit for a week, eating at a different restaurant every meal! And the summer concerts on the square rock. There are special visitor weekends for tours of the University and Maharishi Vedic City, and plans are underway to build a $6-million-dollar County Civic Center that will house a 520-seat auditorium and a 12,000-square-foot event pavilion.

Is this town cool or what...? --Michael Moore

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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