Ajo, Arizona named Best Southwestern Small Town!

Bisbee, Arizona takes second place

Beachside escapes, mountain mining towns and artist colonies in the desert ... the small town landscape of the American Southwest – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and West Texas – is as diverse as the physical one.

  • Ajo

    A copper mining hub in the early 20th century, Ajo is today a picturesque getaway in the Sonoran Desert and the gateway to Organ Pipe Cactus and Sonoran Desert National Monuments. A large central plaza is surrounded by Spanish Colonial architecture, including a mission-style church, and the town's history is on display at the Ajo Historical Society Museum.
    Photo courtesy of Ajo Chamber of Commerce

  • Bisbee

    While chasing Apaches in 1877, scout Jack Dunn discovered rich copper ore in the Mule Mountains of Arizona and Bisbee was born. This mining boomtown produced more than $6.1 billion worth of mineral wealth in less than 100 years of mining operations. Today, Bisbee’s appeal lies in its Victorian architecture, pretty scenery and laid-back vibe, and the Smithsonian-affiliated Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum does an excellent job of recounting the town’s colorful history.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Virginia City

    Virginia City's history stretches back more than 150 years, when a large silver deposit was found in 1859. Today, the town boasts one of the largest historical districts in the country, complete with a wooden boardwalk and 19th century architecture. Experiences in town include grabbing a drink at the Buckets of Blood Saloon, hopping a ride on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, panning for gold or catching a show at Piper's Opera House, built in 1885.
    Photo courtesy of Virginia City Tourism Commission

  • Cloudcroft
    New Mexico

    A tiny mountain town in the Sacramento Range, Cloudcroft has a single main street lined with boardwalks, where visitors come to take in the Old West atmosphere. Ponderosa pine and spring wildflowers fragrance the air, while countless surrounding trails cater to hikers and mountain bikers of all ability levels.
    Photo courtesy of nmtourism.org

  • Madrid
    New Mexico

    Situated between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is the tiny artists colony known as Madrid. This former mining town is today home to more than 40 shops and galleries, as well as the Mine Shaft Tavern – it serves one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the state.
    Photo courtesy of nmtourism.org

  • Taos
    New Mexico

    Taos started as a pueblo tucked within the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico. The earliest residents of the area, the Taos-Tiwa tribe, have lived in Taos Valley for more than 1,000 years; many of the town's distinctive adobe structures are centuries old. Today, the vibrant community encompasses a ski town, a thriving artists colony, trendy boutiques, posh eco-friendly resorts and plenty of restaurants serving up spicy New Mexico green chile.
    Photo courtesy of John Dunn House Shops

  • Creede

    Creede, a former silver mining boomtown during the late 19th century, is today one of Colorado's most picturesque small towns, thanks largely to its location inside a volcanic caldera, surrounded by cliffs. Intact 1890s storefronts now house cafes, shops and two museums, the Creede Historical Museum and the Underground Mining Museum.
    Photo courtesy of Creede & Mineral County

  • Genoa

    Founded by Mormons in the 1850s at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, Genoa is Nevada's oldest town (and one of its most charming). Visitors stay in historic B&Bs while shopping at the boutiques and antique stores, dining at the handful of town restaurants (including the award-winning La Ferme) and soaking in natural spring-fed pools.
    Photo courtesy of Patrick Nouhailler / Flickr

  • Tubac

    Tubac was founded in 1726 as Arizona's first European settlement. Today, this sleepy town and artists colony just outside of Tucson is a popular destination for shoppers, who come for the 80-some shops and galleries specializing in colorful arts and crafts. The Tubac Golf Resort was featured in the Kevin Costner film Tin Cup.
    Photo courtesy of Dave Bezaire / Flickr

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea

    Well-manicured and cute as a button, Carmel-by-the-Sea got its start as an artist commune where the likes of Sinclair Lewis and Ansel Adams found inspiration. While tiny Carmel is much less Bohemian than it once was, it still charms with its numerous inns, boutiques, restaurants and galleries (none of which have numbered addresses), as well as the nearby white sand beach.
    Photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com

USA TODAY set out to find the best small towns with populations under 10,000 (according to the latest census data) in the Southwest. To do so, we asked a panel of local experts to nominate their favorites, and for the past four weeks, our readers have been voting daily to choose a winner. The results are in!

The top 10 winners in the category Best Southwestern Small Town are as follows:

  1. Ajo, Ariz.
  2. Bisbee, Ariz.
  3. Virginia City, Nev.
  4. Cloudcroft, N.M.
  5. Madrid, N.M.
  6. Taos, N.M.
  7. Creede, Colo.
  8. Genoa, Nev.
  9. Tubac, Ariz.
  10. Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Deborah Fallows (American Futures), Anna Hider (Roadtrippers) and our team of 10Best Local Experts were chosen based on their knowledge and experience of Southwestern travel.

Other nominated towns included Cambria, Calif.; Idyllwild, Calif.; Manitou Springs, Colo.; Marfa, Texas; Moab, Utah; Nevada City, Calif.; Ojai, Calif.; Ouray, Colo.; Sebastopol, Calif. and Springdale, Utah.

Congratulations to all these award-winning small towns!

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