John Mellencamp crooned that he could breathe in a small town, and I agree – small towns are great. It’s nice to be near a major city for the opportunities, the museums, the concerts – but I like the elbow room you can’t get living in a crowded metro area. And small towns are quirky. I haven’t come across one yet that didn’t have a unique claim to fame, whether it is a haunted location, a strange festival, or unusual customs.
CNN Money agrees – they recently published a list of the best places to live in the US and small towns won out over the big cities. Chanhassen, Minnesota, for example, was in the top 10. And in 2009, Chanhassen came in at number two on Money Magazine’s list of the best places to live in America. This small town is near enough to the Twin Cities, but far enough that you can enjoy open park space, quaint neighborhoods where kids ride their bikes and play tag in the yards, and a lovely downtown with locally-owned shops and funky art galleries. Chanhassen is famous for its dinner theater. Chanhassen Dinner Theatres claims to be the largest professional dinner theatre in the US. See? Unusual claims to fame – gotta love it.
As I was researching small towns, I noticed that the Minneapolis/St. Paul area pops up quite often on “best” lists. It was included on two Forbes.com lists, ranking number 9 as the best place to begin a career and was first on the list in its region as one of the cheapest places to live. It also came in at number four on Parenting Magazine’s list of the best places to raise a family. So, just in case you are looking for a location to begin a career, live inexpensively, and perhaps start a family, there are some great small towns in Minnesota you should consider. Here are some in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area:
Shakopee – A great name for a great little town, Shakopee means “six.” The name originated with a 17th century Mdewakanton Dakota chief who was given the name after his wife gave birth to sextuplets. Shakopee is located about 20 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis. It is a river town, located along the Minnesota River. It contains the Shakopee Historic District, an area that protects ancient burial mounds and the artifacts and buildings of early settlers, including a gristmill and the ruins of an inn. Shakopee is famous for being the location of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. The event takes place every weekend from the middle of August to the end of September and includes food vendors, craft booths, and live entertainment. Shakopee is also home to Valleyfair, one of the largest amusement parks in the Midwest with eight roller coasters, a water park, and 50 additional rides.
Lakeville – Located just south of the Twin Cities, Lakeville is (not surprisingly) dotted with lakes and ponds, perfect for those who enjoy fishing, swimming, and boating. Lakeville is home to three public beaches and two public boat launches. In addition, there are 47 parks. Ritter Farm Park nature preserve encompasses 340 acres and Murphy Hanrehan Park reserve contains 2,700 acres. Both parks have trails for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. Lakeview is home to Airlake Industrial Park and Pan-O-Prog – a weeklong summer festival celebrating Lakeville’s "panorama of progress" with parades, live entertainment, events, and fireworks.
Waite Park – With a giant yellow water tower sporting a smiley-face, you know this town is going to be fun. Waite Park was founded in 1893 and is located just outside of St. Cloud on its western edge, roughly 70 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Students will appreciate Waite Park’s proximity to several colleges and universities, including St. Cloud State University. Waite Park has a large number of granite outcrops. One abandoned quarry from its past as a mining town is now a park. Quarry Park contains rare orchids and birds, including the Red Shouldered Hawk. Waite Park is home to the Spass Tag Festival, which includes a soap box derby, a golf tournament, and a fishing contest for kids.