The state of Minnesota alone is home to more than 10,000 lakes, but each corner of the United States has nationally—and sometimes internationally—renowned lake towns.
That a city is known as a lake town can be more significant than its proximity to landlocked bodies of water ideal for recreation. The lakes are often the historical breeding grounds of the nation’s first industries, as well as early transportation and shipping hubs. As these lakeside communities grew into the 20th century, they became industrialized and modernized, springing up lively downtowns, diverse shopping districts, big business, new digs for artists and architects, strong primary schools, and top-notch higher education and research facilities.
Stacker mined 2019 data from WalletHub to determine the best U.S. lake towns to live in. WalletHub's data included 46 towns with a beach and a population of 10,000 to 150,000 listed on TripAdvisor. The towns were evaluated across six areas: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life.
Whether the goal is to start a family, set up new roots, or to settle down at the start of a young professional life (or even in retirement), this list has something for everyone. Many of the included towns jump out at the casual observer as popular summer-rental spots—the Ozarks’ Branson, Missouri, or Arizona’s Lake Havasu—it might surprise you to dive deeper into some quality-of-life offerings beyond the beach and vacation homes. You’ll likely pick up some knowledge from a wide range of Americana: one of the last remaining 1950s-style drive-ins in the Midwest; a Florida town that started as a Civil War veteran retirement area; an island boasting some of the country’s top public schools and wealth-earners right in the middle of a lake between Seattle and Bellevue; and even a California town containing much more than Johnny Cash’s prison blues.
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- Total Score: 34.47- Affordability rank: #12- Weather rank: #46- Safety rank: #45- Economy rank: #44- Education & health rank: #33- Quality of life rank: #33
Morgan City, located 70 miles from New Orleans and 60 miles from Baton Rouge, proclaims itself “Right in the middle of everywhere”—with easy access to both Lake Palourde and Flat Lake. The island port is a hub to the oil field and fishing industries, and residents enjoy the best of the cajun lifestyle and water recreation, such as Lake End Park campground and marina.
- Total Score: 38.32- Affordability rank: #36- Weather rank: #16- Safety rank: #29- Economy rank: #46- Education & health rank: #44- Quality of life rank: #46
Along Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio, Lorain is part of Greater Cleveland and just 30 miles from the city center. With nearby Mill Hollow Bacon Woods Park inland and the Lorain Harbor Lighthouse and beautiful Lakeview Park on the coast, residents and vacationers have plenty of nature access—particularly in the summer months.
- Total Score: 39.53- Affordability rank: #45- Weather rank: #26- Safety rank: #24- Economy rank: #42- Education & health rank: #42- Quality of life rank: #40
One of Illinois’ oldest communities dating to a Potawatomie settlement and French fur trading post, Waukegan sits on Lake Michigan north of Chicago. With continuing development of its waterfront neighborhoods and downtown district, the city and surrounding area offer beaches, golf, and events like movies and music in the park.
- Total Score: 39.67- Affordability rank: #27- Weather rank: #35- Safety rank: #44- Economy rank: #43- Education & health rank: #35- Quality of life rank: #39
Hope Mills Lake sits at the center of the eponymous town south of Fayetteville. The town has a combination of peaceful southern atmosphere and exciting range of recreation—trails, tennis, and waterfront activities—and has roots in the cotton milling industry.
- Total Score: 39.69- Affordability rank: #46- Weather rank: #29- Safety rank: #33- Economy rank: #39- Education & health rank: #26- Quality of life rank: #42
Part of Lake County along the coast of Lake Michigan, Zion offers residents all the benefits of its thriving Park District. Right at the edge of the lake are the North Dunes Nature Preserve and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve with plenty of trails, open spaces, and wildlife. And don’t forget Zion’s 65th annual Easter Egg Hunt at Shiloh Park for the family.
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- Total Score: 40.64- Affordability rank: #26- Weather rank: #40- Safety rank: #42- Economy rank: #24- Education & health rank: #40- Quality of life rank: #43
The town whose motto is “Dream Extreme” started in 1888 as a resort locale on Lake Elsinore and has grown into a modern waterfront city. Situated in Riverside County to the east of Los Angeles, residents enjoy all the recreation of the 3,000-acre freshwater lake as well as the surrounding Santa Ana Mountains and of course Lake Elsinore Diamond, the minor league ballpark around since 1994 and home to the Storm.
- Total Score: 41.41- Affordability rank: #31- Weather rank: #41- Safety rank: #31- Economy rank: #38- Education & health rank: #37- Quality of life rank: #38
Oregon sits on Lake Erie and is a suburb of Toledo. The industrial town of 20,000 is home to one of the last remaining ‘50s-style drive-ins; the Sundance Kid Drive-In plays two different movies on two screens. For families looking to get out of the car and keep their eyes on nature, Maumee Bay State Parks sits on the north coast with public links Eagle’s Landing Golf Club nearby.
- Total Score: 41.63- Affordability rank: #41- Weather rank: #4- Safety rank: #43- Economy rank: #45- Education & health rank: #43- Quality of life rank: #31
Ashtabula, situated to Cleveland's northeast, lies on the edge of Lake Erie and at the mouth of the Ashtabula River. Once a critical part of the Underground Railroad, the city has since become one of the important port cities along the lake. Residents can check out the Hubbard House Underground Railroad or Ashtabula Maritime Museum and spend a day at Walnut Beach.
- Total Score: 42.26- Affordability rank: #20- Weather rank: #38- Safety rank: #36- Economy rank: #32- Education & health rank: #36- Quality of life rank: #45
Gages Lake, the small body of water and the town (only around three square miles), is about 10 miles inland to the west of Lake Michigan and 45 miles north of Chicago. Home to excellent public schools and popular fishing spots, the city of 10,000 is enjoyed for its suburban feel and solid restaurants and nightlife.
- Total Score: 43.08- Affordability rank: #43- Weather rank: #22- Safety rank: #39- Economy rank: #29- Education & health rank: #38- Quality of life rank: #25
Racine is around 22 miles south of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan. Home to 77,000 residents, many of whom own their homes, the city’s welcoming parks during the day, and a variety of bars—also for daytime, but more fun at night—is an affordable, livable waterfront city.
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- Total Score: 43.09- Affordability rank: #37- Weather rank: #15- Safety rank: #46- Economy rank: #31- Education & health rank: #27- Quality of life rank: #30
The town 40 miles south of Seattle is ideal for families with school and recreation nearby, and short commutes for professionals. Several lakes are accessible from Lakewood, including four adjacent ones just a short bike ride away: Steilacoom, Gravelly, American, and Sequalitchew. Chambers Bay Golf Course, home of the 2015 U.S. Open, is a four-mile drive to the northwest.
- Total Score: 44.48- Affordability rank: #40- Weather rank: #44- Safety rank: #30- Economy rank: #19- Education & health rank: #31- Quality of life rank: #28
The most populous city in southwest Iowa includes the large Lake Manawa State Park in its southern section. The heart-shaped lake itself is over one square mile and offers boating, fishing, and swimming, with a family beach feel during the summer months. During colder months, residents can take advantage of the trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. Year-round, above-average public schools and an easy commute (15 minutes) to Omaha make it a favorable town.
- Total Score: 44.53- Affordability rank: #28- Weather rank: #36- Safety rank: #40- Economy rank: #41- Education & health rank: #46- Quality of life rank: #6
The “City on the Circle” is just over 100 years old, at the center of which is the massive eight-mile Lake Jackson. The town of 10,000 is popular with retirees, though families can enjoy the accessible cost of living relative to the rest of Florida, the grade A weather, and related outdoor activities. Sebring is a shade under two hours by car to Tampa and Orlando, but the town includes a regional airport and Amtrak station.
- Total Score: 44.75- Affordability rank: #38- Weather rank: #42- Safety rank: #19- Economy rank: #20- Education & health rank: #29- Quality of life rank: #41
This suburb of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan began as a small family town alternative to the larger city, but its location regarding the railroad and lake led to population growth. Those industries coupled with a mid-century power plant birthed the city it is today—though it had to hold off an annexation attempt by Milwaukee. Oak Creek’s public schools, parks, and a plethora of town events (farmers market, beer gardens, outdoor movie nights) boost its quality of life and make it a favorable place to settle down.
- Total Score: 44.97- Affordability rank: #5- Weather rank: #27- Safety rank: #37- Economy rank: #40- Education & health rank: #30- Quality of life rank: #29
On the south shore of Lake Michigan, this Indiana town has everything—from a lighthouse museum, center for the arts, and state park to a casino, winery, and premium outlets. Washington Park includes a beach and a zoo, and the commute to Chicago is just 60 miles.
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- Total Score: 45.82- Affordability rank: #22- Weather rank: #8- Safety rank: #41- Economy rank: #36- Education & health rank: #28- Quality of life rank: #27
At the southern tip of Lake Huron at the St. Clair River, Port Huron offers a range of marinas, parks, beaches, and wonderful historic downtown. Residents can enjoy biking, walking, or running the scenic boardwalk and, in addition to a low cost of living, can access all Detroit offers in an hour-long drive.
- Total Score: 47- Affordability rank: #35- Weather rank: #28- Safety rank: #20- Economy rank: #33- Education & health rank: #32- Quality of life rank: #23
Another Milwaukee suburb on Lake Michigan, residents highlight the friendliness and health-conscious attitude of Kenosha. A range of year-round attractions include the Kenosha Public Museum, History Center, Civil War Museum, and Southport Light Station Museum. Parents can take in the Symphony Orchestra and Comedy Club, children can enjoy Alpaca Art Pottery Painting, and friends can be invited into town for February’s Restaurant Week, in which over 40 institutions take part.
- Total Score: 47.07- Affordability rank: #10- Weather rank: #24- Safety rank: #17- Economy rank: #37- Education & health rank: #24- Quality of life rank: #44
The northwest Indiana town began with farming, developed around the railroad, and continued its growth as a steel city along Lake Michigan. Chicago is a mere 40 miles away, and Portage residents get the benefits of above-average public schools and more reasonable cost of living. One of Portage’s staples, the Outback Trail at Imagination Glen, hosts events like a mountain bike Ride & Grill and cross-country races.
- Total Score: 48.02- Affordability rank: #39- Weather rank: #45- Safety rank: #3- Economy rank: #28- Education & health rank: #21- Quality of life rank: #21
The village outside of Milwaukee was incorporated on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1900 and today is a walkable town ideal for families. Shorewood boasts its location “At the Edge of the City and the Heart of Everything” given its proximity to downtown, performing arts centers, and higher education. Its public schools grade out highly, and Niche ranked it #1 among Wisconsin suburbs for young professionals.
[Pictured: An aerial view of Whitefish Bay.]
- Total Score: 48.17- Affordability rank: #4- Weather rank: #39- Safety rank: #9- Economy rank: #26- Education & health rank: #45- Quality of life rank: #37
St. Cloud, a Central Florida suburb of Orlando, lies at the southern shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga. The “Soldier City” began as a Civil War retirement community but has developed into a family-friendly city boasting numerous highly rated public schools, parks, and events. The St. Cloud Green Programs aims to create a sustainable future, while the Community Center provides activities like dance and exercise classes.
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- Total Score: 49.76- Affordability rank: #21- Weather rank: #20- Safety rank: #21- Economy rank: #15- Education & health rank: #34- Quality of life rank: #24
Laconia sits between Lake Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam Lake with access to beachfront resorts and the Monkey Trunks amusement park. The city plays host to the mid-June Laconia Motorcycle Week, a rally held each year since the 1920s. Residents enjoy a half-hour commute to Concord and 1.5-hour distance by car from Boston.
- Total Score: 50.75- Affordability rank: #33- Weather rank: #19- Safety rank: #8- Economy rank: #27- Education & health rank: #18- Quality of life rank: #35
South of Lake Kegonsa, this Madison suburb has quick access to the State Park. Home to historic neighborhoods and idyllic town streets lined with storefronts, Stoughton boasts rich cultural events and attractions like its Opera House, Catfish River Musical Festival, and Norwegian Heritage Center and dancers.
- Total Score: 51.43- Affordability rank: #29- Weather rank: #11- Safety rank: #2- Economy rank: #34- Education & health rank: #25- Quality of life rank: #36
On the south shore of Lake Erie and 40 miles west of Cleveland, Vermillion proclaims itself “A Small Town on a Great Lake” (and previously was known as “Village of Lake Captains”). The historic port now offers popular vacation destinations like the Lake Erie Shores & Islands, and residents enjoy a top-notch school system and festivals and events like the Woolybear Festival and Historic SummerFare.
- Total Score: 52.3- Affordability rank: #34- Weather rank: #21- Safety rank: #5- Economy rank: #25- Education & health rank: #41- Quality of life rank: #11
Right on the western shore of Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh’s access to the Adirondacks make it an ideal location for outdoors lovers. The city is popular among young professionals, and SUNY Plattsburgh lies within its borders, offering top-notch education locally. Of the many town events, the Mayor’s Cup Festival & Regatta attracts thousands to the region for July 4 weekend.
- Total Score: 53.01- Affordability rank: #44- Weather rank: #37- Safety rank: #23- Economy rank: #23- Education & health rank: #11- Quality of life rank: #7
On the opposite side of Lake Champlain is Burlington, a historic arts and cultural community with the best of the waterfront and several parks on its doorstep. Home to the University of Vermont, the Magic Hat Brewing Company, and ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center, Burlington has a bit of everything.
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- Total Score: 53.25- Affordability rank: #6- Weather rank: #7- Safety rank: #35- Economy rank: #18- Education & health rank: #16- Quality of life rank: #18
Lake Havasu’s city website encapsulates the multiple-element appeal perfectly: Take your pick of water (boating, fishing, swimming, paddleboarding), earth (hiking, off-roading), or air (hot-air ballooning, amphibian ultra-light flying). With terrain covering not only the lake but also surrounding mountains, it’s easy to see why the town is popular not only for short-term stays but also full-time life.
- Total Score: 54.25- Affordability rank: #23- Weather rank: #34- Safety rank: #28- Economy rank: #8- Education & health rank: #22- Quality of life rank: #14
About 50 miles north of Denver, Loveland includes its eponymous lake and Boyd Lake State Park. Not to be confused with the ski area of the same name (100 miles to its southwest), Loveland offers an array of breweries, museums, and the famed Devil’s Backbone Open Space, perfect for hiking and geologic sightseeing.
- Total Score: 54.5- Affordability rank: #25- Weather rank: #33- Safety rank: #7- Economy rank: #16- Education & health rank: #20- Quality of life rank: #17
The suburb 25 miles north of Chicago is renowned for its public schools and family atmosphere (83% of residents own their home). Besides all of Chicago’s options, Highland Park’s downtown hosts the Ravinia Festival, several historic homes like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Willits House are within town borders, and residents have access to public beaches.
- Total Score: 54.69- Affordability rank: #24- Weather rank: #1- Safety rank: #16- Economy rank: #35- Education & health rank: #15- Quality of life rank: #12
On Thunder Bay of Lake Huron, Alpena began as a logging town in the 1800s, and now the nearly 9-square-mile city is home to 10,000 residents with numbers surging during the summer. The “Sanctuary of the Great Lakes” is a prime spot for outdoors enthusiasts; even in the winter, Alpena provides events like a Wine & Hops Tour, shopping and dining in the Downtown District, and trails for hiking, snowshoeing, and ice-fishing.
- Total Score: 54.92- Affordability rank: #32- Weather rank: #13- Safety rank: #27- Economy rank: #21- Education & health rank: #19- Quality of life rank: #8
Duluth is a port city on Lake Superior with a combination of options to stay in luxury or explore nature. The 29-mile Superior Hiking Trail stretches to Canada, while the paved Lakewalk provides respite for more casual runners and bikers. The town of over 80,000 is popular among young professionals and families.
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- Total Score: 55.42- Affordability rank: #42- Weather rank: #23- Safety rank: #34- Economy rank: #22- Education & health rank: #23- Quality of life rank: #3
Pick your pleasure in the picturesque South Lake Tahoe—camping, skiing, golf, and boating, to name a few. Whether it’s full-time living, bed-and-breakfast, or full-scale casino and resorts, the city is only an hour drive south from Reno. Though known as a vacation getaway, above-average schools make it viable for settling down as well.
- Total Score: 56.11- Affordability rank: #13- Weather rank: #17- Safety rank: #11- Economy rank: #14- Education & health rank: #5- Quality of life rank: #32
Mequon, on Lake Michigan, is about 20 miles north of Milwaukee and perennially grades as one of the best places to live in Wisconsin. The town of 23,000 ranks #3 for Wisconsin public schools and #5 for places to buy a house in the state. With plenty of coffee shops, parks, and nightlife to boot, Mequon enters WalletHub’s top 15 lake towns.
- Total Score: 56.38- Affordability rank: #15- Weather rank: #25- Safety rank: #18- Economy rank: #5- Education & health rank: #17- Quality of life rank: #16
Pewaukee borders the lake of the same name, just 20 miles inland from the Lake Michigan shoreline. The town of 14,000 is a homeowners community, and families with children will find Pewaukee consistently ranks high for its public schools. With a beach, restaurants, shops, and several community events, it’s no surprise another Wisconsin suburb appears in the top 15.
- Total Score: 56.79- Affordability rank: #17- Weather rank: #43- Safety rank: #38- Economy rank: #17- Education & health rank: #39- Quality of life rank: #2
An Ozark Mountains community, Branson is next to Table Rock Lake and is home to several parks and beaches to choose from. A popular retirement destination due to the assortment of top-notch golf courses, Branson is also ideal for families because of a strong public school system, as well as for young professionals.
- Total Score: 57.65- Affordability rank: #30- Weather rank: #2- Safety rank: #6- Economy rank: #12- Education & health rank: #9- Quality of life rank: #22
Nine miles west of Cleveland is Rocky River, Ohio, is a town of 20,000 ranked #21 by Niche in the entire state for best suburbs. Its namesake river is its eastern border, and within city limits, families will find a dozen churches, a robust public library system, and nearby Memphis Kiddie Park.
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- Total Score: 57.98- Affordability rank: #14- Weather rank: #18- Safety rank: #22- Economy rank: #10- Education & health rank: #12- Quality of life rank: #13
Another Milwaukee suburb, and neighbor to previously mentioned Pewaukee, Brookfield is a suburban and park-lovers paradise. Tremendous public schools, low crime, proximity to a major downtown city and annually high ranks (Niche’s #4 suburb in Wisconsin to live, buy a home, and raise a family) put Brookfield just outside WalletHub’s top 10 lake towns.
- Total Score: 59.06- Affordability rank: #8- Weather rank: #3- Safety rank: #1- Economy rank: #30- Education & health rank: #8- Quality of life rank: #34
The sliver of northern Ohio just west of Cleveland starts off the top 10 countdown. Bay Village’s parks, Bay Boat Club, and top public schools are some ingredients for a favorable destination among families and seniors. The small-town feel is only strengthened by a park at its center containing the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, as well as a beach and local favorite eatery Vento la Trattoria.
- Total Score: 59.08- Affordability rank: #7- Weather rank: #10- Safety rank: #10- Economy rank: #11- Education & health rank: #13- Quality of life rank: #19
Eden Prairie’s lakes are bountiful: Bryant to the northeast, Riley and Rice to the west, and Red Rock and Staring at its center. Just 12 miles from Minneapolis, the lake town is Niche’s #1 suburb in the state, grading out highly in nearly every quality-of-life category from crime to education.
- Total Score: 59.85- Affordability rank: #19- Weather rank: #30- Safety rank: #32- Economy rank: #3- Education & health rank: #2- Quality of life rank: #9
Fifteen miles east of Seattle, Redmond sits on the north edge of Lake Sammamish, with the River of the same name flowing directly through the city’s heart. The #1 suburb in Washington is home to both renowned international and STEM schools, and is known as the “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest,” according to its website, which explains: “There's not one thing that makes Redmond a great place for cycling, but many things put together that has earned Redmond the designation.”
- Total Score: 60.51- Affordability rank: #3- Weather rank: #9- Safety rank: #4- Economy rank: #1- Education & health rank: #7- Quality of life rank: #26
The city of Davidson spills out onto Lake Norman, its acclaimed college of the same name right within walking distance of the shore. The top-ranked suburb of Charlotte is home to a combination of young professionals and growing families accounting for the population of 12,000. Nature preserves and several parks line the lake, and for those looking to wine and dine with a nautical theme and view, the North Harbor Club has outdoor patio seating, comfort food, and boat slips.
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- Total Score: 60.73- Affordability rank: #16- Weather rank: #30- Safety rank: #13- Economy rank: #4- Education & health rank: #1- Quality of life rank: #20
Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, lies on Lake Washington between Seattle to the west and Bellevue to the east. A wealthy city ($136,000 median income) known for its public school system, parks, and summer festivals, Mercer Island was only incorporated in 1960 and is just five miles long and two miles wide, but is a “true island community“ with “its own sense of identity...widely recognized as one of the premier residential communities in the State of Washington.”
- Total Score: 61.31- Affordability rank: #18- Weather rank: #30- Safety rank: #14- Economy rank: #2- Education & health rank: #6- Quality of life rank: #10
Cracking WalletHub’s top 5, Kirkland is Redmond’s next-door neighbor and another premier Pacific Northwest suburb of Seattle. Residents can enjoy a laundry list of parks and trails in one of the best places to raise a family in the area. The Lake Washington community began in wool milling and shipbuilding and is now a thriving locale of arts, entertainment, beer and wine tasting, and outdoor recreation.
- Total Score: 61.7- Affordability rank: #9- Weather rank: #12- Safety rank: #25- Economy rank: #13- Education & health rank: #10- Quality of life rank: #4
Next up, Holland, Mich., at the edge of Lake Macatawa, takes the #4 spot. Its most beloved centerpiece is “Big Red”—the much-visited and -photographed lighthouse in Holland State Park. Families can explore the city’s Dutch heritage (including shops, villages, events, and eateries), as well as microbreweries for those of age and aquatic center for those more interested in water slides.
- Total Score: 64.55- Affordability rank: #1- Weather rank: #6- Safety rank: #15- Economy rank: #6- Education & health rank: #3- Quality of life rank: #15
Another suburb of Charlotte at the top of WalletHub’s rankings, Cornelius spreads its geographic fingertips into Lake Norman just south of Davidson. The #9 North Carolina suburb with the best public schools also includes a championship golf course and 10 public parks. To fully understand Cornelius’ lifestyle, consider that Charlotte’s Got a Lot recommends dining dockside at Port City Club, dipping into My Aloha Paddle & Surf shop, and swinging by a brewery or two.
- Total Score: 65.36- Affordability rank: #2- Weather rank: #5- Safety rank: #26- Economy rank: #7- Education & health rank: #4- Quality of life rank: #5
WalletHub’s runner-up is Folsom, whose northern border is the shoreline of Folsom Lake and whose western border is Lake Natoma. Just 20 miles from state capital Sacramento, Folsom’s livability correlates with its top public schools, dining options, and weather. While the 1956 Johnny Cash song undoubtedly put Folsom on the map, today it is a modern bustling city replete with park concerts, fairs, galleries, boutique and outlet shopping, and a zoo sanctuary.
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- Total Score: 69.07- Affordability rank: #11- Weather rank: #14- Safety rank: #12- Economy rank: #9- Education & health rank: #14- Quality of life rank: #1
Traverse City, Michigan takes the top spot on WalletHub’s best lake towns. Its northern edge spilling out onto the dual Lake Michigan bays—West and East Arm Grand Traverse Bay—the city includes not only the beauty of the lakeshore but also vineyards, forests, and skiable mountains. The “four-season playground” has a range of nightlife activities (casinos, performing arts, wineries, distilleries), as well renowned antique and farmers markets, shopping, and any outdoor recreation one could imagine. Its A- grade for public schools only fortifies its place as the top lake town in which to live.
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