Bluegrass musicians entertain shoppers at the Roanoke Market Square Farmers Market. - Photo by Jeff Greenberg/Alamy
Vibe: A bustling small city amid the magic of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Sunny days per year: 217
Median home price: $151,500
Certainly Roanoke's pleasant climate, its 22 miles of walkable/bikeable greenways and the spectacular backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains helped land the city on the list this year. So did its incredibly rich history of both Roanoke and the surrounding valley. (Notable Civil War battles include Hunter's Raid of 1864.)
But its 88.5-foot-high illuminated star, first lit in 1949, isn't the only aspect of the city that is burning brightly: Building its reputation as the "City of Festivals," the town now boasts Roanoke Festival In the Park, Downtown Roanoke's Railway Festival, Henry Street Festival, Vinton's Dogwood Festival, The Virginia Championship Chili Cook-off and the Strawberry Festival, making it one of the liveliest towns in the region.
An ambitious downtown complex combines housing with a theater, planetarium and museums. And for retirees, Roanoke also indexes below the national average for each component of the national cost-of-living index, compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research, including groceries, utilities, health care and transportation - the only city on our list besides Omaha to do so.