6. Barrington, Rhode Island
Bordered on three sides by water, this small town on Narragansett Bay retains the leisurely feel of its days as an early 20th-century summer resort. Shops are clustered along County Road, the main street that runs through Barrington, but the commercial hub is small.

While Barrington homes have gotten pricier, the town is an affordable alternative to tonier neighbors like Newport, and the test scores at Barrington's six public schools are the highest in Rhode Island. Providence, which is enjoying a renaissance, is just 10 miles to the northwest, and people also commute to Boston, an hour and 15 minutes away.

When they're not in or on the water, residents flock to the 17-mile East Bay bike path, which connects Barrington with Providence and Bristol.

"We were looking for a small-town New England life," says Laura Pothin, who moved from New York City to Barrington two years ago with her husband John and their two kids. "Families are always out walking, and kids are riding bikes."